Jim Grant recalls the change in the power of the TV unions in the 1990’s

Thatcher came to television later than many other industries, obviously, but she got there in the end. And again, the flash point was a very… as I understand it, the story I heard was a very ironic and unfortunate flash point really, which was that there was an ITN interview with Thatcher at Downing Street. And back then the practice was that if you were going to film, do news, from a sensitive location like a hospital or somewhere like that, you would always send two electricians ­– one to do the regular work and one for emergency standby. Because if you were in a hospital and you blew something up and the ICU went down, that is not a good thing. So for a sensitive location, we would always have two electricians. And so, because Downing Street possibly was a sensitive location, they routinely sent two electricians. And Thatcher noticed the one standing around, doing nothing because nothing was going wrong, and she said “What’s he here for?” and so on. And anecdotally, according to people I’ve talked to that, that kind of set her off.

And, of course, then in the background, there was the Murdoch issue, which was, I think, transparent, and I think we’re seeing it again now with the launch of Times Radio coming hot on the heels of another attack on the BBC, that was happening with Murdoch in the 80s. Murdoch was preparing for Sky and satellite broadcasting of his own. He needed to damage the existing set-up. And so, it’s possible to see, in my opinion, politically that after the mid-80s, really everything that happened was about damaging ITV.

And the first sign of that was a completely unnecessary, arbitrary, stupid desire to do overnight broadcasting. In 1988, we started 24-hour broadcasts, which of course for our department, because we always had to be there, it was a major stress. Instead of closing down at one or two in the morning, we would have to cover 24 hours with the same number of people. And so we were in uproar about it. But the main point about night time broadcasting was there was no point in it. Nobody wanted it. The programmes were absolute junk, just filler. I mean, we would literally put Teletext on the air for an hour. It was called job finder. And we would just put the employment pages of Teletext on the air. And I remember it was worse than junk programming because there was no organic desire for it. It was purely a mechanism for shaking things up. And the thing of course it shook up most was the white book, because the white book was all about protecting people from excessive hours. And the protections against overnight work were draconian. And there was no way that ITV could do 24 hours with the white book. So it was really a question of, they wanted overnight broadcasting simply to attack the white book, not for any other reason. And it did, and that was the first nail in the coffin really. And then over the next five years, it just got worse and worse and worse, because then we got more and more third parties, because they introduced this mandate that you had to show a certain percentage of your production had to be done by independent contractors. So it was just one assault after the other. So eventually, it all fell apart in the sort of early to mid-90s.

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